By Shirley Hawkins
Customers across the country who have been struggling to pay off their layaway tabs before Christmas have been receiving an early holiday surprise—“secret Santas”–anonymous donors–have been contacting department stores and paying off their balances.
The trend, which has been occurring from Los Angeles to New York, has resulted in cash-strapped shoppers crying tears of joy after store personnel inform them that their balances have been paid in full.
A number of benefactors have been specific about how they want their donation to be used—asking to pay off those layaway accounts on the verge of cancellation or just recently cancelled.
Most of the donors have been paying off children’s clothes and toys. Spokespersons from Walmart, Toys R Us, Kmart and Sears report that donors have been cheerfully paying off purchases totaling thousands of dollars.
A Toys R Us spokeswoman said the retailer has seen more than 600 layaway orders paid off by anonymous donors since October.
To match donors’ generosity, Toys R Us offers a matching program that for each layaway balance paid off, the company will donate $200 worth of toys to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation for up to $1 million worth of toys.
A Walmart spokesperson reported that anonymous donors have paid off balances at 73 Walmarts across the country.
In Los Angeles, R. S. Schmitt from payofflayaways.org hand delivered a check for $1,000 in layaway balances at a Walmart in South Los Angeles. Shoppers, many of whom were interviewed by CBS2 news, were stunned and surprised by the donor’s generosity.
“It’s still a shock,” said Taaz Brown as she cradled her toddler. “Oh, my God, I wanted to cry. I still can’t believe it. You can get your tree house now, son!” she told her child.
“I thought I was being punked,” Asia Cooper admitted. “We got on the elevator and she was like, ‘the layaway angel paid off your layaway.’ I thought she was just joking,” Cooper recalls, chuckling.
Cameron Diaz and Mark Fletcher said they barely had enough money to pay their bus fare from Walmart when they received news that their layaway purchases had been paid off.
“I just don’t have the words to describe it. It’s amazing,” Fletcher said.
And like a real Santa, Walmart spokespeople said that donor Schmitt disappeared before customers knew their layaway tab had been paid off.
In Costa Mesa, Laguna Beach resident David Wilson played “layaway Santa” when he sent a check for nearly $16,000 to pay off layaway items under $100 at a local Kmart store.
Customers were shocked and surprised when the store’s manager called to inform them that their purchases were paid in full.
Since then, other layaway angels have donated another $8,000 to the Costa Mesa Kmart store to help spread holiday cheer.